Guest Author - James Shea
Following in the footsteps of a game as widely acclaimed as Super Smash Brothers Melee for the Gamecube (with 7 million copies sold) isn't easy, even more so when there's a huge amount of hype surrounding the game as well. With that in mind, does Super Smash Brother Brawl live up to the legacy that Melee represents, or to the level that pre-launch material indicated? Short answer for both: reasonably so.
Super Smash Brothers is a Nintendo crossover fighting game series featuring characters from almost every Nintendo franchise. Favorites like Mario, Link, Kirby and Samus duke it out in battles of up to four people on stages that are also taken from Nintendo series. Rather than direct combat, SSB focuses on the more cartoonish option of beating up an enemy and then launching them out of the stage with a powerful attack. Plenty of items and stage events keep the game an incredibly fun party experience.
Brawl adds to the formula perfected in Melee by adding new characters, new items, and new stages, as well as some new features. There are a total of 26 characters; new additions to the cast include Pit from NES classic Kid Icarus, a Pokemon Trainer and three of his Pokemon, Pikmin's Captain Olimar, and the Mario series' villain/evil twin, Wario. Furthermore, two non-Nintendo characters are available, in a series first: Snake of Metal Gear fame and Sonic the Hedgehog both join the cast. In total, the cast additions include some pleasant surprises, but also some disappointing removals (characters like Roy and Mewtwo have been nixed, although they have been replaced with similar characters from newer installments of their respective series').
There are a bevy of new items in the game. Foremost among these is the Smash Ball; when attacked enough, it grants the attacking character a "Final Smash" - a devastating attack that varies between different characters. For example, Mario shoots a screen-wide barrage of fireballs, Link catches one opponent in a Triforce symbol and slashes away at them, and Kirby cooks all his enemies in a giant pot. Unfortunately, some Final Smashes are copied or reused; for example, one hidden Zelda character copies Link's Final Smash exactly, and every character from Star Fox (three in all) use the Landmaster Tank as their Final Smash. However, some are definitely really neat and welcome changes to the gameplay - a sort of temporary bonus minigame for whoever manages to get the Smash Ball.
Another new item is the Assist Trophy, which is similar to the Poke'ball item in that it summons an invincible helper to fight the enemies of whoever summoned them. For example, Samurai Goroh (from F-Zero) attacks enemies with a katana, as does Lyn from Fire Emblem (in a single swift cut). Kirby's friend Knuckle Joe delivers a barrage of blows and a mighty uppercut that KOs almost anything in its path. Little Mac from Punch-Out!! uses his speed and strength to deliver a startlingly fast jab. Jeff from Earthbound launches rockets at his enemies. Andross (in his Star Fox for the SNES incarnation) lurks in the background and shoots damaging 3d panels. Not all of them have good effects, though; The Nintendog covers the screen, making seeing the battle almost impossible. Mr. Resetti from Animal Crossing goes on one of his famous rants, the text of which blocks the upper half of the battle completely. All of them contribute greatly to the chaos and hilarity of Smash Bros fighting.
There are some new stages as well. The famous Bridge of Eldin from the Legend of Zelda serves as a long, flat stage occasionally broken by a bomb planted by a rampaging Moblin rider. The Frigate Orpheon from Metroid Prime occasionally flips upside down, causing the playing field to shift. Smashville is an Animal Crossing-themed level, and like its source will change depending on what time the level is played. Pictochat has the enemies fighting among the doodles and illustrations of the DS' built in chat program. Most of the new stages are good, but some of them (particularly Delfino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine and Lylat Cruise from Star Fox Assault) are simply platforms on a moving background, and lack any real extra themes or effects. It's also possible to build your own stages with a variety of parts and backgrounds, which is a fairly intuitive process that can produce some insanely fun results.
Besides multiplayer, the game has a new single player mode as well: "Subspace Emissary", a story told through cutscenes and action stages. The former are well directed but unvoiced / unworded, relying heavily on body language to get their message across. The story involves an evil plot to destroy the world of Smash Brothers perpetuated by the game's villanous characters (Bowser, Wario, and so on). The Smash Bros cast must team up - splintered at first, but then united - to combat this menace. The interactions between characters have some real gems - for example, Lucas from Mother 3 using the Pokemon Trainer as a sort of big brother role model, or Diddy Kong dragging Fox and Falco off to help him rescue Donkey Kong. The story is difficult to make out, however (though it's explained in detail on the Smash Bros. site), and the final boss is nothing short of eye-roll material (hint: he's a new original character, not an established Nintendo character). The story is mostly enjoyable for the little tidbits, and those are good and plentiful, so they make it worth it.
The action stages are 2d side-scrolling classic platforming, with characters fighting against the mysterious and somewhat generic enemies unique to the game. The mechanics are similar to regular gameplay, but directed at a multitude of enemies rather than a small number of skilled opponents. Stages range from generic and boring to generic and frustrating - from "random jungle" to "random ruins" to "random flying space-lab". Other than the playable characters and some enemies from the Mario games, there's nothing "Nintendo" about the game mode - you feel like a Nintendo character playing in some other non-Smash Brothers game. So, in that way, this mode feels like it could've been done a lot better.
Other bonus parts of the game include the return of trophies from Melee, new unlockable tracks for stages, and a variety of new event matches and sub-games. Furthermore - perhaps most importantly - the Wii allows SSBB to be played online, either with friends (added by inputting their unique code) or with strangers. This mode is pretty well coordinated, and there are no real complaints about it. The option also exists to spectate matches and bet on the winner, adding to the stylish, crowd-pleasing dynamic that the game entails.
The gameplay as a whole is great, but it feels less sharp than Melee; some moves feel too slow, unresponsive, or just "wrong". The sense of controlled chaos that Melee evoked has been replaced by rampant and uncontrolled chaos, and a lot of the "art" of playing has gone out of it. The graphics are in general improved, with some good details on characters and stages, but for the most part everything's moving too fast to notice it. The sound is mostly improved - any poor changes in, say, the announcer's voice, or quality in general are offset by the sheer number of music tracks in the game.
As a whole SSBB is a solid, fun, enjoyable game, with some minor bugs and annoyances. There's a lot added, but the jump from Super Smash Bros. to Melee feels stronger than the jump from Melee to Brawl. However, by itself it is a good game with a wide variety of characters and stages from every part of Nintendo's history.